“Can you help me get food, Miss white lady? Can you?”
I was ready to cross the street and walk back to the beautiful Hyatt Hotel, at the base of the famous St. Louis Arch. There for the annual conference of American Christian Fiction Writers, I had left the hotel, gone out for dinner, and was returning after a satisfying meal.
Recently I completed my novel The Legacy of Nobody Smith. Based on a friend’s life, it takes place during the Great Depression in Baltimore City. It’s about a “colored” shoeshine boy who thinks he’s a nobody in a white man’s world. The story follows his journey to significance as he discovered he’s really a somebody, the cherished child of a loving God. I was at the ACFW conference to pitch my book to literary agents.
The voice behind me persisted. “Can you help me? I’m hungry.”
I’d already passed a man who asked for money as he sat in his fancy car. Later in the evening I would pass a man going through DT’s. But there was something in this fella’s voice that got to me…desperation.
I turned and looked down where he sat propped against the street light. “You’re really hungry?”
“If I get you something to eat, you’ll eat it in front of me?”
“Yes ma’am.” He leaned forward. “Can we go to Hardee’s for a cheeseburger? Or TGIF?” Those restaurants were several blocks away. We were six feet from the entrance to a bar.
“No, but I’ll take you in here and buy you dinner, if you’ll really eat it.”
He jumped to his feet. “Yes, ma’am!”
I calculated how much money I could throw away buying him a dinner he wouldn’t eat. He probably only wanted a handout to buy booze, but at least I’d feel better about myself for trying.
Tyrone took off his hat before sitting at the bar.
I sat two seats away in order to get an occasional whiff of fresh air.
He said “please” and “thank you” to the bartender.
She treated him with such gentleness and respect in made me tear up.
Ty took two bites of his burger, and then grabbed his hat. “I shouldn’t be here, Miss Leslie, I’m leaving.”
There. I knew it. “Ty, you promised you’d eat. What’s wrong?”
His chin went down to his chest. “I’m not dressed like everyone else.” It was then I noticed two men across the bar eyeing him.
“You’re my guest, Ty.” I shifted in my seat so the men could better see me, partially blocked from their view by a post. “We’re all the same at the foot of the Cross. It’s only clothing. You are my guest. You stay with me.”
He sat. “Yes, ma’am.” Later in the weekend I would sit with well-dressed authors, agents, and editors. However, I think its Ty I’ll remember most. Say a prayer for him, would you? He’s traveled from Arizona and is trying to get to his mother’s in a far corner of Missouri. He lost his job a while ago, and now she’s lost hers. He stays in shelters when he can.
Was he telling the truth? My guess is yes. He told the truth about being hungry. One big bacon cheeseburger, larger order of fries, and two sodas later, all that was left on his plate was a smear of ketchup. He leaned back with a smile and patted his stomach. “Thank you, Miss Leslie, I’m full. It feels good.”
Before going our separate ways, I put my hand on his shoulder and offered to pray for him. He took off his hat, bowed his head, and closed his eyes. I prayed for Ty to find his way to his mother’s and for him to know how much God loves him.
He thanked me and walked down the street with a spring in his step.
I wept my way back to the hotel, humbled, so grateful for my many blessings.
The young man was really hungry…For food…For some compassion…For the feeling of significance.
Aren’t we all?